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The Tentacle

February 7, 2006

Enough Already!

Alan Imhoff

Last week there was the usual reaction to a process designed to protect us from ourselves. The Frederick County Health Department, following the current interpretation of its rules and regulations, determined that shop owners serving food and drink during a popular monthly event in downtown Frederick were required to purchase a one-day license to do so.

The reaction to that edict was swift by those shop owners, ranging from compliance to outright refusal.

So, if you or I look at this objectively, doesn't it seem we have strayed away from common sense yet again?

When was the last time you purchased a one-day permit to serve food or drink in a public environment? Probably never.

However, when was the last time you had a potluck dinner for friends and neighbors, say on the Fourth of July? Talk about the chance for contamination in the homemade taco bean dip from everyone dipping his or her Tostitos scoops to pull up a wad over the course of several hours.

Can you tell the difference between that event, where you have 30 or 40 people, and a small shop owner offering some type of treat like a pre-packaged veggie dip from Costco?

In my opinion this is only the latest example of government trying to protect us so much that the bounds of common sense seem to have been lost in the bureaucratic frenzy to "do the right thing."

I see the need for on-site inspectors where plants process cattle, chicken, hogs, fish, etc. I see the need for periodic inspections of food service establishments to insure the process of preparing the food meets standards. But why must a business pay $15 for a one-day permit to offer free cookies bought from Safeway during an event geared to attract people downtown?

Will the inspectors sample all the free food and drink to insure it meets state health regulations? Will the inspectors check all the plates, plastic cups, etc., to insure their sanitation? Will the inspectors need to certify the environment in which the food is unwrapped from the cellophane and placed on the plate to make sure of no cross-contamination? Not bad for $15.

At what point do we, as the consumers say: "Whoa! This doesn't make sense."

For years, a neighborhood in Frederick City held a "street party." They petitioned and received a permit to block off the street to traffic. The kids had a heyday on their roller blades and skateboards, chairs and tables were set up curb to curb for a whole host of food and drink. All day long the party continued. Yet I do not remember the need for a one-day health department permit. And somehow we all survived the more than five years I attended this annual event.

Whether it is this one-day permit, or the addition of guardrails along I-270, or the hoops our service clubs need to go through when they hold their butchering fundraisers, or the warning labels on just about everything, at what point do we say, "Hey government, can we bring some common sense back into our lives?"

Another point of view with the health department: if we are constantly increasing the public protection for our health, safety and welfare, at what point does it become counter-productive? If the goal is to eliminate all the harmful effects, wouldn't it stand to reason that at some point we would become extremely vulnerable to some new strain?

Often called the law of unintended consequences, it doesn't take full hold until much later, after all the "rules and regulations" are put into effect. For years we have heard the influenza strain is much worse than previous ones and vaccines are in short supply. If the first is true, is it because we have so immunized ourselves that in reality we have become more vulnerable? If the second, poor planning?

We call upon government to make more and more of our decisions through rules and regulations, where we really should be educating ourselves. If we attend this event on the first Saturday, common sense by us should prevail. If a food or drink doesn't look right, don't take it.

If the roadway or traffic conditions do not feel right, slow down.

For centuries, most of civilization survived without all these rules and regulations. Some are most definitely needed to make our lives healthier, others are marginal in improving it, but some seem to cry out "enough already."

Do we know enough to tell the difference?

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